Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Bags Are Packed...At Least My Taste Buds Are

It seems like everyone is going on vacation these days. My brother jetted off to Australia late last week. Two girls at work are going on vacation next week, while one just got back. Makes me want to just pack up my bags and jet off to an exotic place far, far away myself. Alas, money (or uh...lack thereof) and commitments are keeping me rooted in place for the time being. That's not stopping me from taking my taste buds on a little trip though.

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I first had dakgalbi three years ago in Seoul. It was my first day in the city, and after taking a red-eye, I was still groggy, slightly cranky, and cold (it was winter). But once the ahjummas placed the searing hot cast iron pan in front of us, filled with cabbage, carrots, onions, rice cakes, sweet potatoes, and chicken marinated in a spicy, slightly sweet sauce. The smell that comes wafting off the pan is incredible—savoury, spicy, and literally mouth-watering. Koreans often eat their meat wrapped in lettuce. Place a dab of steamed white rice on a leaf of lettuce, top with some of the chicken and vegetables, a sliver of garlic, wrap and pop into your mouth. Delicious!

It's actually incredibly easy to make at home yourself. All you really need is to get your hands on a jar of gochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste. It's rich, it's pungent and it's spicy, with a bit of a sweet note to it as well. It's become one of my favourite condiments to use in the kitchen. I also throw it in my kimchi tofu stews, my kimchi fried rice, and in dipping sauces to give them a bit of a kick. Another ingredients that would be helpful to have on hand is Korean chili powder. If you can't get your hands on it, use a bit of cayenne instead. Don't try to substitute with the bottled chili powder you can get at your grocery store. Those are perfect for mexican cuisine, but definitely tastes nothing like Korean chili powder.

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Don't sweat it if you don't have a cast-iron pan lying around. While I think it makes the dish tastier cooked in a cast-iron pan, it works just as fine in a wok or a nonstick pan. And be sure to serve this with some steamed white rice. Not only will it help cut through a bit of the heat in between bites, but it's delicious when you throw in the rice in the pan with some of the chicken and vegetables left, and allow the rice to soak up the sauce. Instant dakgalbi bibimbap!

Recipe can be found at My Korean Kitchen.


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